Digital Workflow: How To Efficiently Process Your Photos :: Digital Photo Secrets

Digital Workflow: How To Efficiently Process Your Photos

by David Peterson 2 comments

Do you find yourself losing great shots on more than one occasion? It might be time to bring some organization to your photography. An efficient workflow is the secret to keeping track of your photos and making sure they are at their best quality when you present them to the rest of the world. Even if you are happy with your current way of organizing your photos, it’s worth your time to learn these handy little workflow secrets.

Know What You Want Before You Design Your Workflow

Every photographer is a little different. Some photographers love to capture all of their images in RAW and go through some very complicated photoshop gymnastics to edit them while others simply prefer to stick with JPEGs and use those. These choices ultimately affect your workflow and can make your job incredibly time consuming or relatively easy. It’s up to you choose what you want first and build your workflow from that.

Here is a case in point. Some of my photographer friends are obsessive about backing up their photos. They backup their photos on an external hard drive, a DVD disc, and an online service. If you’re obsessive about keeping every shot, this might be a good idea, but realize that it will take some extra time to manage it all. Sometimes it’s best to simplify the process and only keep the 5 images that you absolutely couldn’t live without. Not only does this save you time, it keeps your portfolio clear of sub-par work.

Shoot In RAW or JPEG?

RAW files are pretty big. Know that when you are shooting in RAW, everything will take a little longer to do. This includes moving files, opening them in Photoshop, modifying them in Photoshop, and saving them. Photographers who shoot in RAW usually have high speed SD-Card readers and computers with a lot of memory. They dedicate a substantial chunk of time to editing their photos and making them just right.

Shooting in RAW isn’t for everyone. It certainly isn’t for the kind of person who just wants to share some nice pictures with family and friends. There are plenty of photography enthusiasts who don’t shoot in RAW because they don’t have the time to get into the gory details. They’d rather just take the pictures and enjoy them. If you don’t see the need to get into the tiniest details in Photoshop, don’t shoot in RAW. You probably won’t get any benefit from it, and you’ll just end up spending a lot of extra time processing your photos.

The JPEG format is very good these days. There was once a time when you had to worry about the effects of saving a JPEG over and over again, but that time has come and gone. You are free to make modifications to your JPEG images without compromising the quality with every new save. Many of the best modifications are small adjustments that don’t require RAW files. Just be aware that you can’t reverse your changes once you have saved the file, so you might want to make a few copies of the original file.

A Solution For The Detail Oriented

Heavy photoshop users like to start with the RAW file and create adjustment layers in Photoshop to modify their work without tainting the original file. An adjustment layer is just like any other layer in Photoshop, except it sits on top of your original photo and modifies little things like color saturation and brightness. With adjustment layers, a photographer can go back and make additional slight changes whenever she wants.

To create an adjustment layer, go to the Layers panel in Photoshop and click on “New Adjustment Layer.” From there, you can choose to create new adjustment layers for curves, color balance, brightness, and much more. Once you have selected your adjustment layer, you simply make the changes you want and the layer will sit on top of your original photo. That way, you can come back and modify or delete it later.

If you plan to use adjustment layers in Photoshop, you should save all of your modified photos as PSDs. The PSD file format keeps track of every change you have made in Photoshop, making it extremely easy for you to go right back where you left off. When you have a photo that’s ready for online publication, you can just save it as a JPEG in a separate folder labeled “internet” containing all of your other JPEG images.

My Workflow

Here's what I do:

  • Copy all photos from my camera to my computer's hard drive
  • Select the 10 photos best photos from my photo session
  • Copy these to my 'photo' flash drive. Once this flash drive is full, I place it in my bank safe deposit box so it's away from my house
  • Upload my best 10 photos to an online photo backup service. I take this opportunity to tag and name my photos so I can easily search for them later.
  • Those I'd like to share with my friends, I then open in Photoshop and modify so it looks better. Usually, I crop and sharpen the image and make sure the colors are balanced.
  • Finally, I upload those modified photos to a photo sharing site.

However you establish your photography workflow, do it in a way that best suits you. Don’t buy into the hype and believe that you need to do extensive editing with extremely big files in order to be a good photographer. It’s fun to be a perfectionist, but some of us just don’t have the time for it. Focus on taking great photos first. You can get into editing them later on in your photography career.

Most people think this post is Useful. What do you think?


  1. Harry Matthews says:

    David, your tips are great and everything you say above is reasonable. However, I think you exaggerate the complexity of working with RAW. Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is a much more modern program than Adobe Photoshop CS or Elements and unbelievably quicker and easier to use. Recent versions of Lightroom will display your image as shot with no adjustments necesssary. Yes, the RAW files are larger but you never have to save multiple copies as you edit them let alone a PSD file with layers which can get larger still. Yes, you do have to Import and Export your files but there is certainly no reason to get into layers etc etc. Lightroom has many advantages but the main one for the workflow you mention is the ease of marking and comparing images to find the best ones. Lightroom saves me time and it is easy to get the benefit of the extra information in the RAW file for those special images.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *